#4. Switzerland: ranking highly despite lost eco votes and striking women

stories • Published October, 2021

Switzerland’s rank on the Happy Planet Index in 2019: #4. Explore the data.

By: Ina Praetorius

Some years ago I returned to Switzerland, after months in Africa. Landing at Zürich Airport felt like entering heaven on earth: everything smooth and polished, drinkable water from every tap, no power cut ever, well dressed people, brand new cars, spacious parks.

Simultaneously, I had a feeling of entering a golden cage: controlled from top to bottom, no escape from all the overconfident ads for Big Pharma, super-healthy Nestlé cereals, Omega watches, and Lindt chocolate. Even my post-patriarchal groups are accurately organised here as the shiny trains are always on time. There is no excuse for any kind of laziness.

A happy consumerist people 

According to the Happy Planet Index, the Swiss see themselves as the happiest folks on earth. However, Swiss splendor is built on a large ecological footprint, mainly because affluent citizens burn up too much energy for heating, mobility and excessive consumption.

We Swiss import too many goods from abroad and export garbage and dirty manufacturing processes. While inside Switzerland, the quality of air and water has considerably improved in the past decades – you can swim in most rivers and lakes again – Switzerland is disproportionately affected by climate change. As temperatures are rising fast, the famous Alpine glaciers risk disappearing by the end of the century, and with them, many species.

Hopes rest on popular initiatives 

Switzerland is a direct democracy, so change must come from the people. To reduce environmental and human rights abuse abroad the “Responsible Business Initiative” was launched in 2015 by a broad coalition of civil society organizations. It aimed at introducing a legal framework to hold big enterprises accountable. Unfortunately, it was narrowly rejected on November 29th, 2020. Likewise, a law intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions was dismissed by 51.6 percent of voters on June 13th, 2021.

Now that two (and previously more) popular votes for better environmental protection have been lost, hopes rest on new campaigns, such as the “Glacier Initiative”, which was launched in November 2019. It aims to reduce Switzerland’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. When this initiative will be put to the vote, we don’t know yet.

Democracy and change

It could be that the traditionally strong sense of participation in the Swiss direct democracy contributes to people’s happiness. However, is the system too weak to make Swiss happiness ‘sustainable‘? We’ll see.

But I do have hope for change. The best thing for my personal happiness in recent times was the huge Women’s strike that rushed all over Switzerland on June 14th, 2019. It was the biggest political demonstration ever in the country: Hundreds of thousands of women and men and queers stood up for their rights and for a global care-centered economy!

About the author

Ina Praetorius, Dr. theol., born 1956 in Karlsruhe/Germany, studied linguistics, German literature and protestant theology in Tübingen/D, Zürich/CH and Heidelberg/D. She worked at the institute of Social Ethics at the University of Zürich before becoming a freelance theorist and author.
Her focus is on post-patriarchal theory, spirituality and economics. She is married, mother of an adult daughter, and grandmother. She lives in the rural region of Toggenburg near St. Gallen. She has been a dual German-Swiss citizen since 1988.
You can see Ina’s work on her website.

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